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More industrial sites could become housing developments

Mark Parker

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One of 74 industrially zoned sites that could meet new criteria for a housing development is shown here at 3101 37th Ave. N. in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mark Parker.

In 2022, St. Petersburg administrators identified 14 industrially zoned properties that met an affordable housing program’s requirements – that number balloons to 74 under the Live Local Act.

City officials continued recent efforts to align with Senate Bill 102, the Live Local Act, at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. The legislation states that municipalities must approve multifamily and mixed-use developments in commercial, industrial or mixed zoning areas if 40% of the residential units are affordable for 30 years.

Local leaders became the first to codify 2020’s House Bill 1339, which allowed cities to create affordable housing on industrially zoned properties that met strict criteria. That included a minimum of five acres and 60 units; close proximity to schools, a grocery store, parks and public transit; and a maximum rent or sale price at 120% or below the area median income (AMI), with a 30-year minimum affordability period.

City officials also stipulated that 30% of units must meet affordable and workforce housing AMI requirements. However, SB102 supersedes previous legislation.

Without the acreage mandate, at least 74 industrial sites throughout St. Petersburg could theoretically become multifamily or mixed-use developments. Amy Foster, housing and neighborhood services administrator, noted that “doesn’t necessarily mean that site is open for development.”

“After some consideration with staff and discussing that internally, we would be fine with eliminating the acreage (requirement),” Foster said. “But we do think a minimum of 10 units should be required, solely for staffing purposes.”

She explained that affordable housing negotiations and processes are laborious. The 30% affordable unit threshold on a quadplex would not be worth the time, Foster said.

“And industrial land is still important in our city for the purpose of job creation,” she added.

A map highlighting 74 industrial sites that meet new criteria. However, many are not open for redevelopment. Screengrab.

Administrators are also working to streamline the approval process. Elizabeth Abernethy, planning and development director, said city staff would send notices to property owners within 300 feet of a proposed development.

It would state that staff reviewed and planned to approve the project unless a resident or organization filed an appeal. That would cost $250 and require a public hearing.

Council Chair Brandi Gabbard said she would like to implement a 30-day window for stakeholders to submit feedback. However, developments without an appeal would forgo a public hearing.

“I will say that AHAC (the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee) discussed this issue as well, and they are recommending administrative approval,” Foster said. “No public hearings, based on what we’ve seen with the challenges with NIMBYism (not in my backyard) when we look at affordable projects.”

City attorney Michael Dema also noted that the Live Local Act significantly alters the appeal process. Using the former Raytheon site project as an example, he said the developer previously had to prove they met or exceeded 14 city requirements.

Under the new streamlined process, whoever appealed the project “would have the burden of proof to say that the evidence shows that they (developers) don’t meet those criteria,” Dema explained.

“It does change the hurdle, so to speak.”

Councilmember Richie Floyd questioned if they were discussing a moot point. He said developers could eschew the city’s previous industrial housing program and allocate 40% of units at 120% AMI – roughly a $73,000 annual income for a one-person household – under SB102.

Foster said affordable housing stakeholders have stressed the importance of continuing to incentivize the previous plan. “But we don’t believe people will use it unless we adjust some of what we have there now,” Foster added.

Dema noted that city officials have received three industrial site applications through the process first codified in September 2021.

“I’m in favor of us tracking more closely with Senate Bill 102,” Floyd said. “To put it bluntly, I don’t see us having a lot of leverage here. So, anything we can do to sort of goad people into creating more affordability sounds good.”

Council members unanimously approved a streamlined administrative approval process for industrial sites. That would include a 30-day comment period and the new appeal process, which requires a public hearing at City Hall.

They also eliminated the acreage threshold and mandated a 10-unit minimum.

 

 

 

 

 

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